Stevens seeks voters' support as trial nears

Since before statehood, Ted Stevens has believed in Alaska. In a Senate career that has spanned five decades, he has championed Alaska's oil and fishing industries and delivered billions of dollars to its cities and far-flung villages.

Now, as he prepares to stand trial in the midst of a contentious re-election fight, “Uncle Ted” is asking Alaska to believe in him.

“Alaskans work on the basis of faith …,” said Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican. “If they have faith in me, this is just another bump in the road.”

Stevens is charged with lying about receiving more than $250,000 in home renovations and gifts from an oil contractor. Jury selection begins Monday.

He is hoping for a verdict before Election Day, Nov. 4, that will propel him to his seventh full term in the Senate.

Political observers expect a close race between Stevens and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat.

James Muller, a political scientist at the University of Alaska at Anchorage who has supported Stevens, said, “There's a kind of long-standing respect and gratitude for (Stevens) that exceeds in force the disappointment they feel that this has come to pass. There's some disbelief that he would have intentionally done something dishonest or wrong.”

Stevens is charged with making false statements on Senate financial forms. But the case runs much deeper.

The Justice Department plans to describe a longtime relationship between Stevens and Bill Allen, founder of VECO Corp., an oil pipeline services company owned by Denver-based CH2M Hill. Allen showered Stevens with gifts, prosecutors say. When Allen needed help securing business or navigating Washington's bureaucracy, they say he called Stevens.

Stevens' defense lawyers say the government is trying to hint at bribery without having to prove it. They want to keep the case focused on what they see as a paperwork violation.

A key to the defense is that Stevens paid for much of the renovation and believed he was paying for all of it. Prosecutors must show that Stevens knowingly lied when he filled out his financial forms.